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Path: /college-football/tennessee-adds-4-star-florida-rb-carlin-fils-aime-2016-recruiting-class
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On Thursday the Tennessee Volunteers landed running back Carlin Fils-Aime in a big head-to-head recruiting battle that included North Carolina, Miami, Auburn, and Georgia down the stretch. The commitment was somewhat of a surprise after a reported announcement date set for Saturday, Aug. 1.

 

The Naples High School star has captured the imagination of college recruiters despite limited touches at the high school level. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound back had 92 carries for 873 yards with 15 touchdowns as a sophomore but only had 26 carries for 232 yards and three scores as a junior.

 

Stats did not diminish Fils-Aime’s standing pulling in offers from South Carolina, Duke, Florida, Michigan, N.C. State, Boston College, Indiana and Louisville. On Wednesday Fils-Aime announced that Tennessee was the front-runner ahead of Auburn after visiting Miami, Auburn, Georgia,and North Carolina over the summer. The 4-star recruit visited Tennessee last week, which helped seal the deal.

 

Tennessee won the recruiting battle in-part upon its promise to only take one running back in the 2016 class.  

 

The Volunteers now have 14 verbal commitments to their 2016 recruiting class pulling recruits from nine different areas including Washington D.C., Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Tennessee.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Teaser:
Tennessee adds 4-Star Florida RB Carlin Fils-Aime to 2016 Recruiting Class
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 13:15
Path: /college-football/nebraska-scores-big-pickup-jordan-stevenson-recruiting
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The Jordan Stevenson sweepstakes ended on Thursday when the former South Oak Cliff (Texas) High School running back was academically cleared to enroll at Nebraska.

 

The recruiting win for first-year Nebraska head coach Mike Riley over Big Ten foe Wisconsin could speak volumes about the direction of the two programs going forward.

 

The Badgers, like Nebraska, are breaking in a new head coach, Paul Chryst (Pitt). When the coaching musical chairs began at the end of the 2014 season Gary Andersen, who recruited Stevenson, left the Badgers for Oregon State replacing Riley. Chryst was able to keep Stevenson in the recruiting class but lost him last week due to Wisconsin’s academic standards.

 

When Stevenson announced he was back on the recruiting market via Twitter posting, “#Badgernation Thanks for all the love also all the support through all I have been through. Much love.” A mad recruiting rush to land the 5-foot-8, 210-pound back began. Reports circled that Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Texas Tech, Pitt, Indiana, Oregon State, Louisville and Nebraska had each signaled interest in Stevenson.

 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban even directly courted Stevenson, but Riley’s pitch on Stevenson becoming the Cornhuskers’ next Ameer Abdullah was the game-changer.

 

Stevenson earned a 4-star ranking after filling the stat sheet for Dallas-area South Oak Cliff for three straight years. As a sophomore he rushed for 853 yards with 11 touchdowns. In 2013 he showed off his all-purpose skills, rushing for 1,994 yards with 18 touchdowns, while catching 18 passes for another 348 yards with two more scores.

 

The big season came as senior, when Stevenson piled up more than 2,500 yards on the ground with 31 touchdowns, while adding 134 yards receiving and two scores on 13 receptions. He also showed off his 4.44 40-yard dash speed in the open field.


Stevenson had originally committed to in-state power Texas, but opened his recruiting back up, earning offers from Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Louisville, Ohio State, UCLA, SMU and Utah State among others before settling with Wisconsin.

 

The impact Stevenson could have on Nebraska’s roster might not be immediate with the kind of talent Riley already has at his disposal.

 

Senior Imani Cross rushed for 384 yards with five touchdowns last season playing behind Abdullah. Cross is a big back (6-1, 240) and is well suited to run between the tackles ,dragging defenders with him. After taking 75 handoffs, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2014.  

 

Behind Cross is Terrell Newby. Newby is more of a speed guy (listed at 5-10, 200), who also is a threat in the passing attack.

 

Last season at Oregon State, Riley used a two-back system splitting carries between Storm Woods (766 yards, 5 TDs) and Terron Ward (696, 10). Former head coach Bo Pelini fed Abdullah the ball 264 times last season, which generated 1,611 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. Stevenson has the potential to take away carries from Cross or Newby if he picks up the offense quickly. A safe bet on short-yardage and goal-line carries, opposing defenses will get a heavy dose of Cross. 

 

Per reports, Stevenson will officially enroll at Nebraska on Friday.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Teaser:
Nebraska Scores a Big-Time Pickup on the Recruiting Trail with RB Jordan Stevenson
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/examining-overunder-2015-win-totals-nfc-west
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One of the best races in the NFL will occur in the NFC West. The defending NFC champs are there in Seattle with Arizona and St. Louis nipping at their heels. San Francisco is a bit of an enigma especially after their odd offseason which saw several players retire out of the blue.

 

Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
 

Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook

 

NFC West

 

Arizona Cardinals

(Over 8.5 wins -105, Under 8.5 wins -115)

 

Record Last Year: 11-5

 

Offense: Carson Palmer's health will be paramount for Arizona in 2015. As last season (especially in the playoffs) showed, the Cardinals can't survive with Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and Logan Thomas at quarterback. The Cards added Mike Iupati to the offensive line and the Pro Bowler will be an instant improvement. The WR corps will be fine with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown. They also have several options at running back.

 

Defense: Arizona's defense won't be as good as it was last year. Antonio Cromartie, Darnell Dockett and Larry Foote are all gone. The Cardinals still have Patrick Peterson to shut down one side of the field along with Tyrann Mathieu at safety. The team also has to hope that kicker Chandler Catanzaro's rookie season wasn't a fluke and that he can lock down field goals once again.

 

Schedule: Arizona begins and ends its season with a stretch of three home games in its last four. The Cardinals close out the year with a road game at Philly followed by home contests against the Packers and Seahawks.

 

Prediction: The under is the play here. There are a lot of question marks with the 2015 Cardinals. Can Palmer make it all 16 games and what will happen at RB? The defense was ranked 24th in 2014 and lost several key pieces. Will this unit be better or take a step back this season?

 

 

St. Louis Rams

(Over 8 wins +120, Under 8 wins -140)

 

Record Last Year: 6-10

 

Offense: Sam Bradford's out and Nick Foles takes over at quarterback. Foles had an uneven 2014 for the Eagles and moves to a team with fewer weapons on the outside. The Rams hope their running game can take some pressure off of the passing game with Tre Mason leading the way. They also hope that first-round pick Todd Gurley is healthy at some point to give Mason a break.

 

Defense: One of the best defensive lines in the league got better with the addition of Nick Fairley. Robert Quinn and Chris Long are great bookends with Aaron Donald pushing up the middle. The team also has solid safeties in T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, who had to clean up the mistakes the mediocre corners made.

 

Schedule: Three times this season the Rams have back-to-back road games. They also have a three game homestand from Weeks 13-15 when they host Arizona, Detroit and Tampa Bay. St. Louis has an early bye in Week 6.

 

Prediction: The Rams are building a nice nucleus, but it won't pay off this year. Foles is probably not the long-term answer at quarterback. The defense will keep them in games, but if the run game can't get going, it'll be a long season.

 

 

San Francisco 49ers

(Over 7.5 wins +173, Under 7.5 wins -205)

 

Record Last Year: 8-8

 

Offense: Colin Kaepernick is back and he looks to try and improve from last year when he took a step back. Kap lead the 30th-ranked passing offense in the NFL in 2014. This year he'll try to improve with Torrey Smith at WR, who replaces Michael Crabtree (Oakland). This side of the ball also lost Frank Gore, Mike Iupati and Jonathan Martin. Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter form a nice group of RBs.

 

Defense: The 2015 49ers defense will not be as strong as it has been in the past. One can point to the departures of Chris Borland, Chris Culliver, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis and Perrish Cox. Darnell Dockett came over from Arizona and will help get pressure on the quarterback.

 

Schedule: San Francisco hosts Green Bay, Baltimore and Seattle in an 18-day stretch in October. The 49ers play three of their first five on the road and don't have too many friendly stretches.

 

Prediction: I don't have to tell you what the selection is here. The only chance for this team is if Kaepernick takes a leap forward in his game. New head coach Jim Tomsula's got his work cut out for him.

 

 

Seattle Seahawks

(Over 11 wins -125, Under 11 wins +105)

 

Record Last Year: 12-4

 

Offense: The rich got richer this offseason as the Seahawks picked up Jimmy Graham via trade. He will represent a nice go-to target for Russell Wilson in the clutch and in the red zone. Marshawn Lynch is back and he continues to be spectacular. The loss of center Max Unger is big, but the rest of the offensive line is going to be fine.

 

Defense: Seattle experienced some personnel losses here, but the biggest departure was coordinator Dan Quinn to Atlanta. He was the architect of this unit. Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith and Jeron Johnson also left. Ironically, Maxwell went to Philadelphia and his replacement is Cary Williams, who was terrible for the Eagles himself. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are the best safety duo in the league.

 

Schedule: Seattle has five of its first eight on the road including trips to the Rams and Packers in to open the season. After the Week 9 bye, the Seahawks host Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Revenge will be on their mind Nov. 1 when they travel to Dallas after the Cowboys beat them in Seattle in 2014.

 

Prediction: The over is right. Eventually this ride has to end, but the addition of Graham makes Wilson that much better. Seattle haters will have to hope that the Seahawks experience injuries, which they seemingly haven't had the past few years.

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

Teaser:
Examining the Over/Under 2015 Win Totals for the NFC West
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-suspends-four-key-players-opener-against-virginia-tech
Body:

Ohio State will begin its national title defense without a couple of key players. According to a release from the school, defensive end Joey Bosa and receivers Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall will be suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech.

 

Bosa is the biggest loss for the Buckeyes, as the junior is one of college football’s top players and a first-team All-American for 2015. In 15 games last season, Bosa recorded 55 tackles (21 for a loss) and 13.5 sacks. Bosa’s absence is an even bigger concern with the departure of last year's other starter at end (Michael Bennett) off to the NFL. Without Bosa, Ohio State is thin on proven experience at defensive end.

 

The quarterback battle is going to dominate the offseason headlines in Columbus, but the receiving corps is a concern for the opener with Marshall, Smith and Wilson suspended. The Buckeyes still have Michael Thomas (54 receptions in 2014), but Marshall, Smith and Wilson accounted for 79 catches last year.

 

With three key targets sidelined for the opener, Ohio State needs Braxton Miller to make a quick transition to receiver. The converted quarterback is now one of the Buckeyes’ top options in the passing attack (at least for the opener).

 

Before the suspensions were announced, Ohio State was considered a 13 or 14-point favorite in Vegas. Expect that line between the Buckeyes and Hokies to drop over the next month. 

 

Repeating as a college football national champion isn’t easy. And Ohio State’s road to another title just got a little tougher. Virginia Tech’s defense is good enough to pull off another upset over the Buckeyes. And without Bosa, Ohio State’s defense needs sophomore end Tyquan Lewis and senior tackle Adolphus Washington to elevate their performance.

 

One loss won't end Ohio State's national championship bid. After all, the Buckeyes lost to the Hokies in 2014 and still reached the playoffs and won the title game. 

 

There’s still a month to dissect the on-field matchup between Virginia Tech and Ohio State. However, it’s safe to say this game now has some added intrigue and upset potential.

Teaser:
Ohio State Suspends 5 Key Players for Opener Against Virginia Tech
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 12:23
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/iowas-coaching-history-repeating-itself-kirk-ferentz
Body:

Hawkeye faithful everywhere still beam with pride when the name Hayden Fry is uttered. After all, it was Fry who provided Hawkeyes a new sense of identity, not just for the football program he inherited which had gone a dismal 17 years without a winning season prior to his 1979 arrival, but also all other sports at the University of Iowa, which now universally use his personally-designed Tiger Hawk logo to instill awe in friend and foe alike.

 

Less known to the younger Hawkeye Nation, however, is the place current head coach Kirk Ferentz played in that 1979 revival and the lessons he learned in the process which contributed, ironically enough, to his own ‘99 renaissance of a program which had once again become mired in mediocrity under the last few years of Fry's 18-year tenure.

 

Entering the 2015 season, however, Ferentz’ one-time untouchable status after a series of 10-win seasons in the early 2000s has been rocked by a four-year run in which the Hawkeyes saw their team go a pre-Fry-style 26-25. Even more shocking, Kinnick Stadium, named for legend Nile Kinnick, Iowa’s lone Heisman Trophy winner, saw the Hawkeyes’ once-unbeatable home dominance dwindling fast. And the losses in Kinnick weren't to perennial powers like Michigan and Ohio State. They were coming at the hands of unlikely foes like Northern Illinois and Central Michigan.

 

Which brings this program into the 2015 season riding a mediocre 34-30 record over the last five years, and Ferentz is no longer a man with whom Hawkeye faithful feel is best suited to remain at the helm once his larger-than-life (and 10th largest in FBS) $4 million annual contract expires in ‘19. As a matter of fact, Hawkeye Nation now questions whether he should even be there after this season. He's no longer getting the results he once obtained, and the faithful 70,000-plus fans in Kinnick every fall Saturday have lost patience with the teams’ subpar performances. Meaning there is likely no hotter seat in the Big Ten in 2015 than the one currently occupied by Ferentz.

 

When discussing the issue of success at the collegiate level it's often tempting to look at only the wins and losses. But there's more to the story of Iowa's slide from its dominant years of the early 2000s and Ferentz’ rebuilding job. And it starts with public perception.

 

For more than five years, from 2007-12, Ferentz stubbornly stood by his then-offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe even as the offense repeatedly failed to perform and became a potent symbol of the lack of entertainment the Hawkeyes were providing on the field. It seemed that in the battle of public perception, the Hawkeyes had grown much more entertaining off of the field, where player arrests and controversy reigned. Yet Ferentz refused to budge in making changes to his staff, which could have eliminated both of those problems at least until the Hawkeyes’ dismal 4-8 showing in 2012.

 

Then there's the issue of how assistant coaches and coordinators perform their jobs, which can be measured in large part by the revolving door that first showed up in Fry's program, as his staff members were regularly vetted for movement up the ladder by other programs. This season will see five former Fry assistants, including Ferentz, leading their own highly successful FBS programs in some capacity, including Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Arkansas' Bret Bielema, and Wisconsin's former coach and now athletics director Barry Alvarez. In all, only one former Fry assistant from his 1983 coaching staff, Dan McCarney, has not gone to post a career winning record as a head coach.

 

And what of Ferentz’ former staff? Only a select few have moved up the coaching ladder after departing Iowa. A clear sign that the once vaunted Iowa coaching tree has indeed seen its own drought.

 

Which brings us to the players themselves. What's become of some of the most talented recruits Ferentz has coached at Iowa? To his credit, this is where Ferentz shines, having moved more college players to the NFL than any other Big Ten coach during his tenure. Which begs the question, if the talent was that good why was Iowa still enduring the continuing long slow slog through slightly better than .500 seasons?

 

The answer, while complicated in many ways, most likely comes down to one inevitable issue. Kirk Ferentz himself.

 

When he arrived at Iowa, Ferentz’ bravado off the field was muted, with most considering him a humble type who shunned the spotlight in favor of a modest approach that focused on slow growth and teaching. And while he was successful in initially recapturing the glory days of Fry's success, that humble approach ultimately meant his program was left to fight over players that the Oklahomas and Ohio States of the college football landscape didn't want. In most respects that seemed a good fit for Iowa. Except for where low-key intersected with the fanbase’s long and storied history of demanding overachiever-style success, a history former Iowa basketball coaches Lute Olsen and C. Vivian Stringer both publicly cited as creating unrealistic standards.

 

So what of these under-performing Hawkeyes entering this season?

 

One look at the schedule shows a luxury not often seen by the Hawkeyes recently, playing seven of their 12 games in the once-comfy confines of Kinnick Stadium. But oh those five games played on the road —  a slate that includes Wisconsin, Nebraska, as well as the often Ferentz-vexing Northwestern and Iowa State.

 

Run the slate in the non-conference and win Big Ten games against lesser opponents like Indiana, Purdue and Illinois, while pulling off at least one upset on the road and Ferentz will likely have successfully silenced his critics for one more year. Lose even one of those games, however, and he may very well have cemented his legacy in the same category as Fry, who in spite of his success was thought to have stayed five years too long.

 

— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a native Iowan currently living in Los Angeles. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a Hawkeye fanatic and former contributing writing for The Daily Iowan. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.

Teaser:
Is Iowa’s Coaching History Repeating Itself with Kirk Ferentz?
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-band-songbook-features-holocaust-song-mocking-victims
Body:

Ohio State's band is hot water following a report of a songbook making fun of Holocaust victims.

 

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, a book by the famous band includes a sendup of the Holocaust with many joking references to Nazi concentration camps, train cars, and furnaces. "Goodbye Kramer" features lines about Nazi soldiers "searching for people livin' in their neighbor's attic," and other horrible references. It was written to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'"

Band members are urged to keep the book a secret, and there's no word on how it leaked. Ohio State released a statement saying it is "committed to eradicating [this behavior] from its marching band program."

 

In 2014, the updated songbook contained another offensive tune targeted at Jewish people. The language used is much too offensive. The list goes on and on as there is a song referring to Nebraska, Michigan, and homosexuals in a negative light.

 

Ohio State has said the school is now trying to reform the ugly things about the band's culture. A band that was once the baddest band in all of college football is now overshadowed by off-the-field antics.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 11:48
Path: /college-football/why-florida-state-will-or-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015
Body:

Florida State is coming off one of the best two-year runs by a program in recent memory. The Seminoles won 27 games from 2013-14, claimed the 2013 national championship and reached the playoffs last season. Additionally, Florida State has claimed three consecutive ACC titles and has four double-digit win seasons over the last five years.

 

Even though the Seminoles lost a handful of key players from last season, another run at the playoffs isn’t unrealistic. Of course, Florida State needs to answer several personnel questions and navigate a few tricky road tests, but coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the best in the nation and is primed for a quick reload in 2015.

 

The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

Here’s a look at three reasons why Florida State will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Seminoles won’t finish in the top four.

 

Three Reasons Why Florida State Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015

 

1. Talent

Recruiting rankings aren’t 100 percent accurate, but there is plenty of value in the data. Using the 247Sports team rankings from 2011-15, Florida State’s five-year recruiting average (4.4) ranks No. 2 behind Alabama (1.0). There’s more to a roster and judging teams in the preseason than just pure talent from a recruiting perspective. However, there’s no shortage of potential and talent for the Seminoles. How quickly will coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff develop the young talent on the roster into key contributors? On paper, most of Florida State’s talent is in the freshmen and sophomore ranks for 2015.

 

2. Jimbo Fisher Will Find a Quarterback

The last three full-time starters at quarterback for Florida State under Fisher have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Extending that streak to four seems unlikely, but it’s safe to assume Fisher will find the right answer at quarterback. Sean Maguire finished spring at the top of the depth chart, and the junior has three seasons of experience within Fisher’s system. He also started the Sept. 20 showdown against Clemson – arguably the best defense in the nation – last year, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards. However, Maguire isn’t guaranteed the starting job after former Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson announced he would transfer to Florida State in May. Golson is clearly more established as a quarterback on the FBS level, but he also faces a tough transition to a new offense. Regardless of whether Golson or Maguire takes the first snap, Fisher deserves the benefit of the doubt in finding the next quarterback.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

3. Jalen Ramsey + Playmakers on Offense

While one player isn’t able to transform a defense into a shutdown group, defensive back Jalen Ramsey can make up for a lot of deficiencies for the Seminoles. The junior is arguably the best player in college football and is shifting from safety to cornerback in 2015. Ramsey’s all-around versatility on defense is a huge asset for second-year coordinator Charles Kelly. On the other side of the ball, the Seminoles have a core of young playmakers ready to emerge in 2015. The status of Dalvin Cook is uncertain after an off-field incident, but Jacques Patrick and Mario Pender should prevent a drop in the rushing performance. At receiver, sophomores Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are rising stars. True freshmen George Campbell and Da’Vante Phillips are also worth watching as key contributors this season.

 

Florida State's 2015 Schedule
DateOpponentLogoAthlon Projected Rank for 2015Projected Record
Sept. 5Texas State937-5
Sept. 12USF994-8
Sept. 18at Boston College566-6
Oct. 3at Wake Forest824-8
Oct. 10Miami437-5
Oct. 17Louisville387-5
Oct. 24at Georgia Tech188-5
Oct. 31Syracuse853-9
Nov. 7at Clemson149-3
Nov. 14NC State399-3
Nov. 21Chattanooga--
Nov. 28at Florida268-4
Three Reasons Why Florida State Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

1. Too Many Holes to Fill

Even though the rankings indicate just how well Fisher and this staff have performed on the recruiting trail, this team is losing a ton of key players from last season. Offensively, quarterback Jameis Winston is the biggest loss, but receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary must be replaced, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense ranked ninth in the ACC in points allowed last year and lost both starting cornerbacks, end Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman to the NFL. The linebacking corps is also thin on depth.

 

Related: ACC Predictions for 2015

 

2. Road Schedule

If Florida State is going to return to the playoffs in 2015, it will have to win a handful of critical games on the road. Trips to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida are key swing games for the Seminoles this season, and there’s an intriguing mid-September trip to Boston College – a team that has played Florida State tough over the last two years. Catching Miami, Louisville and NC State at home softens the road schedule a bit, but this is not an easy path for a rebuilding team in 2015.

 

3. Defensive Concerns

Charles Kelly’s first season as the defensive signal-caller had its share of ups and downs. The Seminoles finished ninth in the ACC in scoring defense and allowed 5.5 yards per play. However, Kelly’s halftime adjustments were a key cog in some of Florida State’s close victories. But this unit still has a ways to go in 2015, and a handful of key players left for the NFL. The defensive line may not have a dominant, first-team All-ACC performer this year, but there is depth and some promising young talent. The linebacking corps is arguably Kelly’s biggest concern with Reggie Northrup and Matthew Thomas recovering from offseason surgeries. Even though this unit has promising talent in spots and one of the nation’s top players in Ramsey, the Seminoles need another year of seasoning on defense.

 

Final Verdict

 

Florida State is a team built to win in 2016 or 2017. Sure, there’s a lot of promising talent in place and a standout freshman class will add to the depth for Fisher. However, the Seminoles must replace four starters on the offensive line, break in a new quarterback and improve a defense ranked near the bottom of the ACC in the four main statistical categories. And there’s a schedule featuring road trips to Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida. That's a lot to overcome. Finishing with 11 wins in the regular season isn’t out of the question. However, a 10-2 campaign is more realistic considering all of the personnel question marks and roster turnover this year.

 

Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 9

Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-2 (6-2 ACC)

Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5

CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9.5

5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 9.5

Teaser:
Why Florida State Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-top-10-heisman-candidates-2015
Body:

The SEC is in a two-year drought without a Heisman winner. After winning three trophies from 2007-10, the SEC has just one winner from 2011-14.

 

Can the SEC claim a Heisman winner in 2015? The conference has a few options among the nation’s leading candidates, especially at the running back position with Georgia’s Nick Chubb, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry.

 

Quarterbacks Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and Jeremy Johnson (Auburn) are also squarely in the mix. 

 

Here's a look at the top Heisman candidates from the SEC for 2015.

 

The Five Clear Favorites

 

1. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Chubb was slated to spend 2014 as a backup to Todd Gurley, but an early-season suspension and torn ACL to Gurley elevated Chubb into the starting lineup. The No. 33 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite ensured Georgia’s rushing attack didn’t miss a beat, recording 1,547 yards and 14 scores on 219 attempts. Chubb averaged 165.4 rushing yards over the last eight games of 2014.

 

Related: SEC Breakout Players for 2015

 

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

A strong case could be made for Fournette as college football’s most talented running back. As a true freshman in 2014, Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 scores on 187 attempts. The former five-star recruit should see even more carries as LSU’s No. 1 back in 2015.

 

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

3. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Henry led Alabama with 990 rushing yards and tied for the team lead with 11 touchdowns on the ground. With T.J. Yeldon off to the NFL, Henry will anchor the rushing attack for coordinator Lane Kiffin. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound running back is a handful for opposing defenses to tackle, and he’s due for his first 1,000-yard campaign in Tuscaloosa.

 

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

Quarterbacks are always going to have an advantage in the Heisman race, and Prescott is one of the leading candidates under center in 2015. Mississippi State is losing a handful of key players from 2014, but the Bulldogs will be a factor in the SEC West title picture. Prescott guided Mississippi State to just its third double-digit win campaign in school history last year and passed for 3,449 yards and 27 scores, while adding 986 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

 

Related: SEC Predictions for 2015

 

5. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

Johnson has only two career starts, but the junior should be among the top 10-15 favorites to win the Heisman in 2015. The Montgomery native is a different quarterback than Auburn’s last starter (Nick Marshall), as the junior is more of a drop-back passer and is poised to keep Gus Malzahn’s high-powered attack among the best in the nation. No. 5 might be too low for Johnson.

 

The Next Five Candidates

 

6. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

All signs point to Treadwell returning to full strength from a serious leg injury suffered in 2014. In nine games last season, Treadwell caught 48 passes for 632 yards and five scores. Quarterback play is under the spotlight for the Rebels in 2015 and will determine just how high Treadwell climbs in the Heisman discussion. He could be the best receiver in the nation in 2015.

 

Related: Ranking College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

 

7. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

Allen is the favorite to start for the Aggies in 2015, but touted freshman Kyler Murray will push for snaps. Allen threw for 1,322 yards and 16 touchdowns in limited action last year, with his best performance (294 yards) coming against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. The sophomore should have a breakout year at the controls of a high-powered offense in College Station.

 

Related: SEC Breakout Players for 2015

 

8. Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas

Splitting carries hurts the Heisman outlook for Williams and Collins, but both players should push for 1,000 yards in 2015. If Arkansas continues to improve in coach Bret Bielema’s third year, the stock of Williams and Collins will continue to rise.

 

9. Duke Williams, WR, Auburn

Expect to see Williams’ numbers increase in 2015 with the departure of Sammie Coates, along with the addition of quarterback Jeremy Johnson into the starting lineup. In his first year from the junior college ranks, Williams averaged 16.2 yards per catch on 45 receptions.

 

11. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

Cooper is among the nation’s top all-purpose players, averaging 108.5 total yards per game in 2014. The junior needs more help in the win column to jump into the Heisman race.

 

Related: SEC Predictions for 2015

 

12. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

Pencil in a Tennessee candidate here. Dobbs gets a slight nod over running back Jalen Hurd as the favorite on Rocky Top to contend for the Heisman. Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and nine scores over the final six games of 2014.

 

Three Darkhorses to Watch

 

Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee

Hurd led the team with 899 rushing yards last season but will face increased competition for carries from junior college recruit Alvin Kamara.

 

Related: College Football's Top Coordinator Hires for 2015

 

Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri

Mauk has a revamped receiving corps but should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. He threw for 2,648 yards and 25 scores in 14 games last season.

 

Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky

Rising star for the Wildcats should be in for a bigger workload after averaging 6.6 yards per attempt on 74 carries last season.

 

Defensive Players to Watch

 

(A defensive player winning the Heisman is unlikely. But here’s a look at the best candidates if a defensive player will get into the Heisman discussion).
 

1. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

Hargreaves III is arguably the top cover cornerback in the nation. The junior has earned back-to-back All-SEC honors.

 

2. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Barnett was outstanding as a true freshman, ranking second among defenders in SEC games with 10 sacks. 

 

3. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

Don’t expect huge stats from Nkemdiche as the anchor of Ole Miss’ defensive line, but the junior is a force on the interior and a handful for opposing offensive linemen.

 

4. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Garrett ranked as one of the top prospects in the 2014 signing class and didn’t disappoint in his first year with the Aggies. Garrett recorded 11.5 sacks in 12 games last season.

 

5. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

Either Ragland or teammate A’Shawn Robinson deserves a mention here. The Crimson Tide should have one of the best defenses in college football.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2015
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: New York Giants, NFC, NFC East, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/burning-questions-new-york-giants-enter-training-camp
Body:

After finishing far behind in the NFC East last year, the Giants will look to compete for the title against the Cowboys and Eagles. There’s little doubt the Giants have some great talent on their team, but their rush offense and defense ranked towards the bottom of the league. Tom Coughlin's team needs to get better in those areas specifically if they want to make a run for the playoffs.

 

5 Burning Questions for the NY Giants in Training Camp


Can Eli Manning be just as good as last year?

After a disastrous 2013 NFL season that ended with an ankle injury, Eli Manning’s success last year had to be somewhat unexpected. Despite Manning's big statistical campaign, the Giants won only six games. Once again, their season may ride on him, and there obviously has to be questions of whether or not he can match those numbers. There should be hope for that though, as he’ll have Victor Cruz back and Odell Beckham Jr. will be in his second season. It doesn’t look like he’s going to get much help in the running game, but his track record points in a positive direction for another great season.

 

Will the running game improve?

The Giants struggled mightily in the running game in 2014, ranking 23rd in total rushing yards and 30th in yards per attempt. Bringing in Rashad Jennings last year didn’t do much, especially considering he continued to be plagued by injuries. Drafting Andre Williams seemed to be more of a project for the future, but he led the team in yards and carries because he had to start in place of an injured Jennings. This offseason, the front office brought in Shane Vereen, but there still is no standout, premier back on this team. Without any upgrades, the rushing game once again appears doomed. Vereen should add some good depth, but Jennings hasn’t proved to be a valuable starter yet.

 

How will Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz be in their return from injury?

The biggest (and worst) news of the offseason for the Giants came when they learned about Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury from a fireworks incident. After a revival season where he notched 12.5 sacks, the Giants were hoping this high production would continue. However, now there are plenty of questions, including if he’ll be ready to play at the start of the season and how much the injury will actually affect his play. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, Victor Cruz is returning from a torn patellar tendon that ended his season early last year. Training camp will be important to see how much he has recovered. However, if he continues to recover to full strength, then Cruz and Beckham Jr. could create one of the league’s top combos.

 

Can Steve Spagnuolo help fix the Giants’ defense?

A few years removed from being the team’s defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo is back this year in the same position. Last time with the Giants, he succeeded with a 4-3 defense that focuses on blitzes and being extremely aggressive. The Giants need to do things much differently than last season, when they ranked 29th in yards allowed and 22nd in points against. Many of the issues came against the run, but by incorporating more blitzes, the Giants hope to quell this problem. The secondary also has some concerns, with two very young safeties and injury-plagued cornerbacks. There’s a lot of potential in the secondary, so Spagnuolo will need to learn how to mold them and keep them healthy.

 

Can Tom Coughlin turn around this team in a tough division?

Tom Coughlin has been the head coach for the Giants for 11 seasons, and 2013-14 was the only time where he had back-to-back losing records. He is just one of two coaches (Bill Belichick) with two or more Super Bowls on their current team. As one of the longest-tenured coaches, there is no doubt to the success he has had. But if the Giants can’t turn it around, what’s next for the team? Coughlin doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon, so it puts the Giants in an interesting predicament. Many head coaches lose their position after several consecutive bad seasons, so would it be different for him? They play in one of the toughest divisions, and it’s a long way to the top.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /nfl/answering-nfc-norths-biggest-questions-2015
Body:

NFL training camps are opening up all across the nation, signaling the official return of pro football.

 

Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.

 

AFC's Biggest Questions: EastNorth | South | West
NFC's Biggest Questions: East | North | South | West

 

NFC North

 

Chicago: Is Jay Cutler your starting quarterback?

There are a lot of unknowns about the Bears with John Fox now running things in the Windy City. But it's hard to address any of the other issues while ignoring the flashing neon sign under center. Chicago can't rid itself of Jay Cutler (not for lack of trying), and, despite his much-deserved criticisms, the veteran is still a better option than a dozen other NFL starters. Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase certainly won't be married to the incumbent so the leash will be short. How a run-first, disciplinarian head coach meshes with a lackadaisical and frustrating quarterback will be fascinating. If Cutler and Gase can get on the same page, the Bears have a lot of weaponry to utilize.

 

Detroit: Can the defensive line be rebuilt?

The Lions' offense underachieved last fall but is loaded for bear in 2015. It's the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense that has major holes to fill. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley are gone off the defensive line. Haloti Ngata fills one role immediately but is turning 31 and posted the second fewest tackles in his career last season. Ziggy Ansah is a special talent but is still very young while free agents and rookies will be asked to step in and fill other voids. The linebackers are among the NFL's best and the secondary is finally rounding into form. But to stay elite, the Lions' defensive line has to prove it can reload after some major departures.

 

Green Bay: Organize the new faces on defense?

The Packers are loaded and picked by many to win the division, but there are holes on the defense. Longtime veteran starters A.J. Hawk and Tramon Williams are gone along with role players Davon House and Jamari Lattimore. B.J. Raji returns but the Packers need strides from first-round picks Datone Jones, Nick Perry, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall. The Packers used their first two picks this year on corners and selected Jake Ryan in the fourth round. Clay Matthews has excelled inside and out but his supporting cast — which is loaded with early draft picks — needs to step into more prominent roles.

 

Minnesota: Can the young talent develop quickly?

There is a lot of young talent on this team. In fact, the Vikings have made eight first=round picks in the last four drafts and all eight have Pro Bowl potential. This group doesn't include rookie starting middle linebacker Eric Kendricks or other young starters like Everson Griffen, Kyle Rudolph or Antone Exum. This team is poised for big things in the near future, but the question is can the future be 2015? Despite the new contract, Adrian Peterson may not be long for the Twin Cities but he has an extremely experienced offensive line and fresh legs. If Teddy Bridgewater and the other young talent develops quickly, this is a sneaky good playoff team. If not, All-Day could be in Dallas this time next year.

Teaser:
Answering the NFC North's Biggest Questions in 2015
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-unveils-new-uniforms-asu-adidas
Body:

Arizona State is now part of the adidas family.

 

adidas is now the official partner of the Pac-12 and the Sun Devils are the beneficiaries of some pretty sweet new uniforms. Their partnership with Nike is up and that calls for a fresh new look for the 2015 season.

 

 

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:19
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/throwback-thursday-michael-jordans-top-23-dunks-unc-north-carolina
Body:

Michael Jordan spent a lot of time in the air during his years at North Carolina.

 

His Airness had many highlight-worthy dunks in the tar heel blue, and it's always a good idea to relive them once in a while. Jordan had high-flying alley-oops, reverses, and two-handed slams that took place during his golden years. 

 

A YouTuber made a video with Jordan's best 23 dunks, and they are pretty difficult to narrow down.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/acc-wild-card-players-2015
Body:

We all know how good Deshaun Watson is at Clemson. We also know what Kendall Fuller means to Virginia Tech and how much the Yellow Jackets rely on Justin Thomas. But each year, great seasons are born on the improvement of unheralded players.

 

Wild Card Players: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | BYU | Notre Dame | Group of Five

 

Here is a selection of some of the potential wild card players (and one coach) in the ACC going into the fall.

 

ACC Atlantic

 

Boston College Eagles

 

Offense: Harris Williams, Offensive Line

Boston College loses all five starters from last year’s offensive line. Williams started all 13 games in 2013 but missed all of last season after injuring his ankle in the opener against UMass. The sixth-year senior will have to provide leadership for this young group, whether he is at center or guard.

 

Defense: Isaac Yiadom, Cornerback

BC needs the sophomore to take hold of one of the cornerback spots. Should Yiadom fail, BC will probably fill the void by moving its one returning starter in the secondary, Justin Simmons, from his natural position of safety. The coaching staff would prefer to have Yiadom succeed.

 

Clemson Tigers

 

Mitch Hyatt, Offensive Tackle
In order for Clemson to win the ACC title, quarterback Deshaun Watson must stay healthy. That puts a lot of pressure on the guy protecting his blind side. And it looks like that guy will be the true freshman Hyatt. Hyatt enrolled in January, so he did get reps with the Tigers this spring.

 

Defense: Ben Boulware, Weak-side Linebacker

Clemson will have seven new starters on its defensive front. Though there are some pieces ready to go on the defensive line, questions remain at linebacker. Boulware is the most experienced of the unit and plays with an intensity that can rub off on the other members of the defense.

 

Florida State Seminoles

 

Offense: Mario Pender, Running Back

With Dalvin Cook currently in limbo, Pender’s role will be increased. He averaged five yards per carry as a sophomore and reached the end zone four times. Pender will get more touches and with only three starters back on offense, he must do something with those chances.

 

Defense: Chris Casher, Defensive End

Casher came to FSU as a highly touted prospect. However, the junior is currently sitting third on the depth chart at defensive end. The Seminoles are in desperate need of a pass rush and if Casher is healthy (and motivated) he could supply that pressure.

 

Louisville Cardinals

 

Offense: Brandon Radcliff, Running Back

Reggie Bonnafan is expected to be the quarterback and he is a better runner than thrower. The receiving corps is young. So the Cardinals will probably lean heavily on Radcliff and the running game. The junior will look to carry over last year’s late-season surge.

 

Defense: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Safety

Harvey-Clemons is the ultimate wild card. He was one of the top prospects in the nation when he signed with Georgia in 2012. After being dismissed from UGA, Harvey-Clemons found a home with his old defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at Louisville. His talent his without question, assuming he can stay on the field.

 

North Carolina State Wolfpack

 

Offense: Nyheim Hines, Wide Receiver/Running Back/Kick Returner

Hines doesn’t really have a defined position. Wherever he lines up, offensive coordinator Matt Canada will look to get the ball in his hands. Hines is an electric playmaker and should become a favorite of quarterback Jacoby Brissett early in the season.

 

Defense: Kentavius Street, Defensive Tackle

In 2014, Street signed with the Wolfpack despite holding offers from LSU, Ohio State, Florida, Clemson, Georgia and several other top programs. With NC State searching for help up front on defense, the time is now for Street.

 

Syracuse Orange

 

Offense: Erv Phillips, Running Back

The Syracuse offense does not possess a lot of big-time threats and the Orange are now short one more with the news that running back Ashton Broyld has been dismissed from the team. Phillips was slated to split time with Broyld, but now he has a bigger load to carry.

 

Defense: Zaire Franklin, Middle Linebacker

The Cuse has one solid linebacker in Marquez Hodge. Franklin closed 2014 in a way that has many wondering if he can be Hodge’s equal. The two will have to carry a very green Orange defense.

 

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

 

Offense: Tyree Harris, Wide Receiver

The Deacons would like a complement to solid tight end Cam Serigne. Harris showed great promise as a freshman in 2013, but redshirted last season. His speed could open up some space for Serigne.

 

Defense: Ryan Janvion, Safety

Wake Forest has some experience and athleticism along the defensive line and especially at linebacker. Janvion is the leader of a defensive backfield that may really struggle on the corners. If Janvion can help the outside guys develop, Wake may have a pretty good defense.

 

ACC Coastal

 

Duke Blue Devils

 

Offense: Thomas Sirk, Quarterback

One of the primary reasons for Duke’s recent rise up the ACC standings has been the play of quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Anthony Boone. Now it’s Sirk’s turn. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is a master at getting the most out of that position and Sirk’s performance will play a key role in determining the Devils’ fate in 2015.

 

Defense: Kyler Brown, Defensive End

With star linebacker Kelby Brown’s career over after a second torn ACL, his brother Kyler will be asked to do many different things for the Duke defense. He will have his hand in the dirt at times and will be standing up as an outside linebacker at others.

 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

 

Offense: Broderick Snoddy, A-Back

Snoddy has carried the ball just 65 times in three years. But with 2014’s top three running backs departed and Dennis Andrews booted off the team, Snoddy inherits the premier spot behind quarterback Justin Thomas.

 

Defense: Francis Kallon, Defensive Tackle

In the spring, head coach Paul Johnson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Francis is the key.” He stated that if Kallon becomes a factor inside, Patrick Gamble could play outside. Depth is a concern along the line so any impact that Kallon can make will be welcomed.

 

Miami Hurricanes

 

Offense: Kc McDermott, Left Tackle

The offensive line is a huge question mark for Miami and McDermott is the new left tackle for star quarterback Brad Kaaya. The sophomore came to Miami with a four-star ranking and a good pedigree; his brother Shane was a three-year starter for the Hurricanes.

 

Defense: Chad Thomas, Defensive End

The former five-star recruit played in 12 games last year but contributed very little. If the Hurricanes are going to improve this season, that must change. Like many on this year’s Miami squad, Thomas is long on potential but short on performance to date.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels

 

Offense: T.J. Logan, Running Back

Logan was recently named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List. The Hornung Award is presented each year to the country’s most versatile player and Logan certainly is versatile. Last season he led the Heels’ running backs in rushing, caught 26 passes, and also averaged 25.3 yards on kickoff returns.

 

Defense: Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator

The Tar Heels’ defense was a train wreck last fall, ranking 116th in scoring defense and 117th in total defense. Chizik, who guided Auburn to the 2010 BCS National Championship, has a huge task in turning around this side of the ball.

 

Pittsburgh Panthers

 

Offense: Adam Bisnowaty, Offensive Tackle

Running back James Conner is a star. So is Tyler Boyd at wide receiver. Quarterback Chad Voytik showed progress last year. But those guys need help up front and Bisnowaty is the most experienced of the returnees.

 

Defense: Lafayette Pitts, Cornerback

Pitts has had a nice career at Pittsburgh, starting 38 games. With Pat Narduzzi taking over as head coach, a more attacking style of defense will be implemented. The new coach likes aggressive corners that can make plays, which really hasn’t been Pitts’ game during his otherwise solid career.

 

Virginia Cavaliers

 

Offense: Taquan Mizzell, Running Back

Like many on this list, Mizzell came in with high expectations and has yet to flourish. With starting tailback Kevin Parks no longer around, Mizzell has a golden opportunity. There is uncertainty at quarterback, so Virginia needs Mizzell to explode.

 

Defense: Mike Moore, Defensive End

The Cavaliers’ defense had an impressive 34 sacks last year. But Moore is the leading returning pass rusher and he had just three sacks. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta loves to send pressure and if Moore is a handful for opposing offensive lines, more lanes to the quarterback will open.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies

 

Offense: Jonathan McLaughlin, Left Tackle

Quarterback Michael Brewer turned the ball over too much last season. Part of that was his own doing; part was because of the pressure he faced. McLaughlin is the best player on a line that needs to improve in both pass protection and run blocking.

 

Defense: Andrew Motaupuaka, Middle Linebacker

There are stars all over the Hokies’ defense. In the middle of it all will be Motaupuaka. The sophomore from Virginia Beach will be making the defensive calls, so he has a leadership role amongst a group that features five players on Athlon Sports’ preseason All-ACC teams.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

Teaser:
ACC Wild Card Players for 2015
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-top-heisman-candidates
Body:

The last time a Big 12 player won the Heisman Trophy, Texas A&M and Missouri were conference members. It has only been four years since Robert Griffin III of Baylor was named the Heisman Trophy, but so much has happened since then that it feels a bit longer. Could the brief drought be brought to an end this season? It sure could with TCU’s Trevone Boykin among the national favorites (along with a handful of players from Ohio State and the SEC).

 

Related: The Big Ten's Top 15 Heisman Candidates for 2015

 

History would suggest things look pretty good for Boykin too. A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy all but two times since the 2000 season. Big 12 quarterbacks have a knack for being considered among Heisman favorites on a regular basis with players like Griffin, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Vince Young in years past.

 

But it has been a while since TCU had a quarterback worthy of such accolades. Boykin finished a distant fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, but now he is among the favorites, and for good reason. But take a look beyond Boykin and you will see a handful of players around the Big 12 that could be ready to make some Heisman Trophy statements, and a number of long-shot underdogs.

 

There is some good talent around the conference. Here are some of the players with the best shots to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion and others just to take note of this season.

 

The Favorite

 

Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

After throwing for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading TCU into the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation and ending the season with a big win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, Boykin enters the 2015 season as one of the overall favorites in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Boykin really showed what he can do as TCU opened up the offense last fall, and should once again be equipped to put up big numbers while leading the Horned Frogs to a potential Big 12 championship. Leading TCU to a conference title and a possible Playoff spot will keep Boykin ahead of the pack in the Heisman race.

 

Next in Line

 

Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

In a season that should see plenty of production from some young running backs around the country, Oklahoma may have the best in the Big 12 with Perine. He finished the 2014 season strong, piling up 1,713 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Along the way he grabbed the single-game rushing record with a 427-yard afternoon against Kansas. If the Sooners are going to make a run in the Big 12, Perine will be leading the charge in Norman.

 

On the Radar

 

Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

Baylor is home to the most recent Heisman Trophy winner out of the Big 12 with Griffin receiving the hardware in 2011. Could Russell be the next?

 

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

The sophomore signal-caller hopes to join Barry Sanders as the only Heisman winners in Oklahoma State history. If the final few games last season were a preview of things to come, then things look promising in Stillwater with Rudolph under center.

 

Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

Baylor figures to put up plenty of offense, and Linwood should be a key part of the system. After rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns, Linwood should post similar numbers, if not better, this fall.

 

Josh Doctson, WR, TCU

Boykin may be the top contender for the Heisman Trophy out of the Big 12, but one of his top targets in the field could enter the conversation as a sleeper. Doctson led the Horned Frogs in receiving last season (1,108 yards, 11 TDs) and could be looking at similar production in a loaded returning offense this fall.

 

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The last Sooner to win the Heisman Trophy was Bradford in 2008. Mayfield is far from Bradford, but could be in a good position after transferring from Texas Tech. As Oklahoma looks to open up the offense this season with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, Mayfield could be well suited to get things rolling quickly.

 

Ultimate Sleepers

 

Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

With a veteran offensive line coming back in the fall, Mahomes should feel confident leading the offense at the start of the season after taking over in the middle of 2014. As is usually the case at Texas Tech though, big numbers do not necessarily translate to Heisman contenders.

 

Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Oh, another Baylor offensive player? Sure, why not. The Bears will have multiple ways to put up offensive numbers, and that includes Baylor’s leading returning receiver. Coleman went over 1,000 yards in 2014 with 11 touchdowns, and will be a primary target on one side of the field.

 

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

Odds are a player from Iowa State will not win the Heisman Trophy, or even make the trip to New York City. However, the Cyclones’ Lazard could be an intriguing prospect. Lazard may be one of the top wide receivers in the Big 12.

 

Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia

It has been a while since West Virginia had a player worthy of some Heisman buzz, but Shell could have a chance to be the star of the Mountaineers’ offense if he stays healthy.

 

Tyrone Swoopes, QB, Texas

Running back Ricky Williams was the last Longhorns player to win the Heisman Trophy (in 1998), although there have been some worthy nominees in the years since (Vince Young, Colt McCoy). Swoopes (or Jerrod Heard) should be considered big-time long shots, but if Charlie Strong can mold Swoopes to be his next Teddy Bridgewater, then we could see some good things in Austin.

 

If You Believe Defensive Players Are Worth Discussing

 

Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

If a defensive player is going to win the Heisman Trophy (a true rarity) Baylor lineman Oakman could be the most likely out of the Big 12. The physical specimen is difficult to contain on the line and could be the top defensive player in the conference this season.

 

Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s linebacker is coming off a season with nine sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. Striker will be everywhere around the football when he is on the field, and if the Sooners do well this fall he could become more of a household name.

 

Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia

Joseph is probably the best defensive back in the entire Big 12. That’s good news, as Joseph will be busy trying to make plays if the front of the Mountaineers’ defense struggles.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Top Heisman Candidates for 2015
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/some-nfl-players-life-begins-undrafted
Body:

Somebody from an NFL team told Ryan Hewitt he would be drafted in the fourth round last year, so he figured he was set. Maybe the fourth was a little too high, but he would definitely find a home by the sixth round. Seventh, for sure.

 

The Bengals weren’t as bullish on Hewitt as a fourth-rounder, but they were definitely thinking about choosing the Stanford fullback/tight end/H-back during the final two rounds. But, as things often go on draft day, there were other needs to be addressed, bigger holes to be filled. Cincinnati never selected Hewitt.

 

Nobody else did, either. Throughout the draft’s third day, Hewitt heard from a couple teams that told him that he was a possible sixth- or seventh-round pick. Stay tuned, they said. Be ready. He was ready, all right. He was also left out on the street.

 

“It’s tough,” he says. “You work your whole career, and you want to hear your name called on TV.”

 

When it was all over, when even Mr. Irrelevant had received the Happy Call, things started to get really weird. A guy who hadn’t drawn enough interest to get a single team to choose him in three days of drafting all of a sudden could have used about four more phones. Teams were calling him. His agent was calling him. Teams were calling his agent. His agent was calling teams. After spending almost three days experiencing nothing but dashed hopes and dreams, Hewitt was in serious demand.

 

“I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my agent and different teams trying to figure out where to go,” Hewitt says.

 

That was it. Hewitt had only 15 minutes to decide. So did hundreds of other players throughout the nation. The minute the draft ends, and sometimes even before it ends, NFL teams embark on a high-speed chase for undrafted free agents, in order to sign those who weren’t chosen. In some cases, the goal is to fill out a roster for mini-camps, OTAs and training camp. But in the case of players like Hewitt, it’s much more. Cincinnati director of player personnel Duke Tobin had spent some time with Hewitt before the draft and had made a note to pursue him if nobody chose the Stanford product. The Bengals sold Hewitt on a chance to compete for a roster spot, not just be a body to step in during spring and summer drills. Sure, he was a “tweener,” and his versatility hurt him because he didn’t have one specific position. But he was a tough, talented football player, and the Bengals liked that.

 

“We had laid the groundwork with Ryan,” Tobin says. “Throughout the pre-draft process, we had visited with him, and when the draft was over, we immediately recruited him.”

 

Things worked out well for Hewitt. He made the team and played in all 16 games as a tight end, fullback and special teams performer. Hewitt caught 10 passes, ran the ball once (for no gain) and made four tackles as part of coverage units. He certainly wasn’t on any short lists for Rookie of the Year, but Hewitt contributed to the team’s playoff run and impressed coach Marvin Lewis, who was talking about Hewitt’s 2015 opportunities as early as last August. Though he had plenty of suitors in those frenzied minutes after the draft, Hewitt made a good choice.

 

“I chose Cincinnati because of its style of offense and the personnel they had,” Hewitt says. “I thought I could make an impact and beat people out. It was the best fit.”

 

Buy the 2015 Athlon Sports NFL Preview Magazine

 

Teams bring in around 15 undrafted free agents each year, usually with little or no fanfare. But while the vast majority end up getting cut or finding spots on practice squads, there are some big success stories, and plenty do make teams’ 53-man rosters. As of October 2014, there were 74 undrafted rookies playing on Sundays.

 

Jeff Saturday spent 14 years playing center for Indianapolis (13) and Green Bay (one), reaching six Pro Bowls and earning two first-team All-Pro nods. And one of the heroes of last year’s Super Bowl, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, was not picked in the 2014 draft. This isn’t just a recent phenomenon. There have been dozens of great NFL performers who were not chosen, even when the draft used to encompass more than seven rounds.

 

Quarterback Kurt Warner, tight end Antonio Gates, defensive tackle John Randle, wideout Wes Welker and even legendary cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane made it through the annual “Player Selection Meeting” unwanted. In today’s world of highly specialized scouting, it’s unlikely we will see too many Hall of Famers joining the league from the streets; but there are 15 undrafted players who have made it to Canton. There are only 13 No. 1 overall picks there. Every year there is talent left out of the draft, and teams work hard to identify and sign players who can help them.

 

“Once you get to the seventh round, the difference between getting picked and not getting picked is almost none,” Tobin says. “If you fit a team’s needs better, you get picked. But it’s difficult to know what guys aren’t going to get picked.

 

“After the draft, it’s surprising. You say, ‘Oh, he didn’t get picked. Oh, he didn’t get picked. Oh, he didn’t get picked.’”

 

• • •

 

Saturday remembers the moment when his confidence in the NFL Draft process began to waver. He was standing against a wall during the 1998 NFL Combine when someone yelled out how long his arms had measured. One of the ways teams often judge a lineman’s potential is by reach. A player with longer arms is more capable of fending off the advances of enemy defenders. Those who allow opposing linemen to get closer are at a disadvantage. Or so the reasoning goes. Although Saturday was a two-time first-team All-ACC center, he didn’t fit the NFL stereotype for the position. He was listed generously at 6'2" and weighed just 285 pounds. And then there were those arms.

 

“When they yelled out my arm length, everybody looked down at their clipboards and started writing,” Saturday says of the assembled scouts and personnel execs. “I said, ‘That’s not a good sign.’ Later, my agent called me and said not to worry. I told him, ‘These are the same arms I played so well with in college.’”

 

The Combine markdown was the beginning of a tough stretch for Saturday, who despite being the third-ranked center heading into the annual poke-and-prod session, wasn’t chosen. A couple teams had called during the second day (the Draft didn’t expand to three sessions until 2010) to tell Saturday that he was being considered, but none had made the Big Call. To make things even more difficult, Saturday’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, represented UNC defensive end Greg Ellis, who had been a first-round pick of the Cowboys. Cindrich was traveling to Dallas the second day of the draft, and he wasn’t available to help Saturday navigate the free-agent morass.

 

As a result, it took Saturday a week to hook on with Baltimore. But the relationship didn’t last too long. In fact, Saturday didn’t even make it to training camp with the Ravens.

 

“I got to Baltimore, and they had franchised their center Wally Williams (ironically another undrafted free agent) and had another center, Jeff Mitchell, that they had drafted (the year before),” Saturday says. “I walked into the offensive line meeting room, and it was full of giants. Everybody weighed 330 pounds, and here I am at 285. It was not the room for me.”

 

Saturday spent almost a year working as a manager at an electrical supply store in Raleigh. He was staying in shape, but it wasn’t as if NFL teams were suddenly realizing the colossal error they had made and begging him to sign with him. It took his former college roommate, Nate Hobgood-Chittick, to make it happen. In 1999, Hobgood-Chittick had been picked up by Indianapolis, and though he had no professional cachet, he went into Colts GM Bill Polian’s office and told him he had to sign Saturday. Polian, who had been in Carolina while Saturday played at UNC, remembered the center and signed him. Once there, Saturday fit into line coach Howard Mudd’s system, which emphasized speed and intelligence over brawn.

 

“(Polian) gave me a shot,” Saturday says. “Howard Mudd told me he wanted an aggressive football player who did exactly what he said. It worked out well, and I spent 14 years in the league.”

 

• • •

 

The months leading up to the NFL Draft can seem like weeding a giant flowerbed that has been untended for months. As many as 6,000 players are eligible to be chosen. Of course, most of them have no business being in an NFL team’s building, much less on the field every Sunday. Once the easy work is done, and about 90 percent of the players are eliminated from consideration, it’s time to find the prospects who might just be able to play for a team.

 

A team can have 250 players on its draft board. Or 300. Maybe only 200. That’s a lot of people to consider when there are only seven rounds. The key component for all of them is fit. Houston may only have 150 of the same players on its board that the Jets do. Not everybody thinks the same way about each prospect, particularly if one plays a 3-4 defense, and the other is a 4-3 squad.

 

“We look at players who can come in and compete for roster spots,” Seattle director of college scouting Scott Fitterer says. “We don’t have a set number on the board.”

 

It’s pretty obvious that certain players will be gone well before the frenzied rush to sign free agents begins. That’s not something Fitterer and his fellow executives worry about when trying to decide who will be there. Their focus is on the late-round prospects — like Hewitt — who could escape the sixth and seventh round. According to Fitterer, the Seahawks treat every collegian the same way, analyzing strengths and weaknesses, the better to get an idea who would best fit their roster. Tobin says he and his staff evaluate and speak before the draft with players who weren’t invited to the Combine or who may not have performed well in Indianapolis. The Bengals bring dozens of players to their facilities to work them out, interview them and determine whether they will fit the team’s needs.

 

Teams all over the league have had success mining the undrafted ranks. Fitterer estimates “five or six” players on Seattle’s Super Bowl XLVIII-winning team were free agents. Jermaine Kearse, who caught the winning TD in overtime against Green Bay in last year’s NFC Championship Game and two weeks later made the amazing reception in the waning moments of the Super Bowl, was signed by the Seahawks in 2012, after he wasn’t selected. Another Seattle wideout, Doug Baldwin, wasn’t chosen in 2011 but impressed Seattle enough that it gave him a three-year, $13 million extension last spring.

 

“We’re looking to find extremely competitive guys with athletic ability and a skill set that fits our style,” Fitterer says. “If there is a 6’1” corner that runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash) but is undeveloped, we’re intrigued. We look at him as a developmental project. Our coaches are teachers.”

 

Even if a player is cut by a team during training camp, he still has film on his play from practices and preseason games that he can use to pitch his talents to someone else. Just being with a team confers a status on a player and makes it a little easier for him to find a spot with someone else. It’s rare that someone like Saturday or Warner, who spent a lot of time out of football, gets a position. That’s why it’s important that while teams are evaluating them, the players do their homework and figure out what team is best for them. A prospect could receive calls from five or six teams during the half-hour following the draft’s completion. If he merely signs with his childhood favorite, he could be making a big mistake. Players and their agents must pay close attention to teams’ styles and how crowded their particular position is on the roster.

 

“The kids are more educated than ever,” Fitterer says. “They are able to search on-line and look at depth charts. They are informed.”

 

While undrafted players need to make informed decisions, teams’ desires to sign them continue to grow. The thrill of unearthing a talent and having him contribute is a victory; adding a piece to the roster at a low cost, most often at the rookie minimum, has equal appeal. When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, they did so with a large number of players whose salaries were quite manageable. Teams able to stock the shelves without bestowing gigantic contracts on all of them are able to strike a fine balance between their stars and everyone else. It may sound somewhat unfair, but the rigid, salary cap-driven economics of the league mandate that approach. Teams love to find young players they can use for special teams and spot work on offense and defense.

 

The bonus is that those who make teams from the “streets” are highly motivated to prove themselves. They were left out of the draft pool, and they want to make everyone aware of their mistakes. Fitterer remembers that Baldwin and Kearse elevated themselves to “special” status due to their drive to show that they belonged in the NFL.

 

“They have a chip on their shoulders when they come in here,” Fitterer says. “And the guys with the chips on their shoulders often separate themselves from the rest.”

 

• • •

 

Hewitt enjoyed his first year with the Bengals, and he’s looking forward to enlarging his role in 2015. He doesn’t, however, expect any favors. He knows the team will bring in a player — or perhaps more — to compete with him this year. He isn’t a first-round pick with a guaranteed contract, or even a middle-round choice with a bit more job security. When the Bengals convene for training camp, the next Ryan Hewitt could be on the field, looking to impress and defy convention by grabbing a roster spot.

 

“I am expecting them to bring in competition,” Hewitt says. “Iron sharpens iron. I expect them to bring in a stud who can help them. That’s not my concern. They have to do what’s best for the team.”

 

And they look just about everywhere to do so.

 

-By Michael Bradley

Teaser:
For Some NFL Players, Life Begins at Undrafted
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, Tom Brady, NFL
Path: /nfl/did-nfl-want-tom-bradys-phone-or-not
Body:

The only new detail to emerge from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling on Tom Brady's Deflategate appeal was that Brady had "destroyed" his phone prior to meeting with investigator Ted Wells in early March. This was the item that cemented Goodell's decision to uphold Brady's four-game suspension, and the headline that was the final nail in Brady's coffin in the court of public opinion.

 

Related: Tom Brady's Suspension Upheld, What Now for the Patriots QB?

 

However, in May, after the release of the Wells Report, Ted Wells had a conference call with the media to defend his work, and he made an interesting comment on Brady's phone.

 

And I want to be crystal clear. I told Mr. Brady and his agents, I was willing not to take possession of the phone. I said, "I don't want to see any private information." I said, "Keep the phone. You and the agent, Mr. Yee, you can look at the phone. You give me documents that are responsive to this investigation and I will take your word that you have given me what's responsive."

 

So which is it? The lead investigator makes it "crystal clear" he didn't need Brady's phone, but now the NFL is burying Brady for destroying it. If Brady had destroyed his phone prior to meeting with Wells, why wasn't that in his initial report?

 

Brady's agent Don Yee spoke out on Wednesday after the appeal ruling, detailing how they were willing to reveal the identities of everyone in Brady's phone, provide the commissioner with all of Brady's cell phone records and even contacted AT&T's general counsel to see if the lost text messages were recoverable. 

 

Does that sound like someone with something to hide?

 

There's no mention of any cooperation from Brady in the appeal ruling, as Goodell maintained Brady "declined to provide investigators with access to highly relevant electronic information, such as emails and texts."

 

This figures to be one of the key points of contention in any looming trial, but what is clear is that Wells did not feel Brady handing over his phone was vital to his investigation.

 

But when the NFL discovered Brady no longer had that phone, it became the key piece of circumstantial evidence used to maintain his punishment.

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
Did the NFL Want Tom Brady's Phone Or Not?
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/graham-rahal-has-awesome-ohio-state-themed-helmet-indycar-race
Body:

IndyCar driver Graham Rahal will have the best-looking helmet in Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course.

 

Rahal is a big Ohio State fan and unveiled on Wednesday night a Buckeye-themed helmet, complete with the college football playoff and stickers.

 

A couple of interesting details about the helmet were the No. 15 sticker on the back – Rahal’s number (which also happens to be Ezekiel Elliott’s number) and the 18 Buckeye stickers. The 18 stickers represent Rahal’s career podium finishes in the IndyCar series. 

Teaser:
Graham Rahal Has an Awesome Ohio State-Themed Helmet for IndyCar Race
Post date: Thursday, July 30, 2015 - 08:20
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, Overtime
Path: /college-football/art-briles-channels-drake-twitter-baylor-bears-back-big-12
Body:

Art Briles and Drake... basically the same person.

 

The Baylor coach mentioned Drake on Twitter after the rapper dropped the now-infamous diss track toward Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill titled, "Back To Back." Briles went on to say that Drake isn't the only one to go back to back because the Bears have won back to back Big 12 titles.

 

 

Who knew Briles is part-time hip-hop aficionado.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 16:52
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/tim-tebow-does-intense-leg-exercises-philadelphia-eagles
Body:

Say what you will about Tim Tebow, but he works hard.

 

The Eagles backup QB is always one for the unusual workout, but this takes it to another level. This is one "leg day" Tebow will be feeling in the morning.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 16:26
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/jose-canseco-spend-week-dressed-woman-support-caitlyn-jenner
Body:

Jose Canseco hasn't played in many years but he's still making headlines.

 

The former MLB star is going to show support for Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) by "dressing up and living as a woman for a week." It may be odd for some to see the slugger don a dress and perhaps heels, but he told NY Daily News that he's reformed. As a man once "kind of against" Jenner's transition to female, he's doing the one thing he can think of to show solidarity and understanding.

 

"The only thing I can do is confirm it," Canseco said referring to a TMZ Sports report that he would live as a woman. "I can't say exactly how it's going to be done yet. It will be done for about a week — it will be on my Internet show called, 'Spend a Day with Jose.' Once it's completely done, I will be dressing and living as a woman for a week. I'm talking about full everything."

 

Fans claiming it's too "weird" for them, won't have to think too far back when that idea about Jenner seemed too far-fetched. Canseco says all you can do is support those going through the change.

 

"Once I watched it more and more, and realized what it really entailed and what he was going through, I started supporting him."

 

This will definitely qualify as "must-see tv."

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 15:43
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/overcoming-history-what-kyle-busch-doing-unprecedented-nascar
Body:

So much talk this week will surround Kyle Busch’s push toward the Chase. Scoring his third win in four races Sunday, taking NASCAR’s Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has launched Busch just 23 points from the top 30 cutoff. Busch now has as many wins (four) as anyone in the Cup Series this season – and that’s despite missing 11 races with serious leg injuries.

 

At this point, it’s not a matter of if Busch makes the field but whether he’ll be a championship contender. Expectations are rising fast for a Joe Gibbs Racing team that wasn’t even sure at one point if their driver would return this season. Suddenly, at age 30 Busch is maturing into the type of consistent performer he needs to be to become a champion.

 

“I might have found my happy place,” he said Sunday. “I can’t believe what’s going on. I just want to celebrate with my team, my wife and my family.”

 

Expectations are rising for a No. 18 team that didn’t look like it could be in this position. But even if Busch falters from here on out, leading to a first-round Chase exit, it’s important to stop and acknowledge what he’s accomplished. Looking back at NASCAR modern-era injuries, stepping out of the car for that length of time and then excelling during the same season is unprecedented.

 

Let’s quickly compare Busch to some other serious injuries that have befallen NASCAR stars during the modern era….

 

Tony Stewart (2013): Broken leg, didn’t return that season. In 2014, he went winless and scored just three top-5 finishes.

 

Steve Park (2001): Suffering head injuries during a wreck at Darlington, Park doesn’t return until the following season. He goes winless in Cup without a top-5 finish. Earlier in his career, he missed half of the 1998 season due to an Atlanta wreck and then came back and failed to score a top-10 finish.

 

Bill Elliott (1996): Fractured his left thighbone during a crash at Talladega. Came back and failed to score a top-5 finish after missing seven races.

 

Ernie Irvan (1994-95): Suffered near-death injuries in a crash at Michigan. Missed the rest of the 1994 season, came back in ’95 and scored no top-5 finishes in three races. He won twice the following year (’96) and placed 10th in the season standings.

 

Kyle Petty (1991): Broke his leg as part of injuries suffered at Talladega. Failed to score a top-5 finish upon his return later that season.

 

The history of these top-tier drivers makes Busch’s recovery all the more impressive. A return to the car after this type of injury should be a struggle for survival. Instead, Busch has turned the Cup Series on its ear and become the hottest driver on the circuit. No matter what happens from here, it’s one of the more impressive feats we’ve seen in NASCAR’s modern era, an accomplishment that should be celebrated even if by some god-awful stroke of bad luck Busch misses the Chase.

 

Through the Gears we go….

 

FIRST GEAR: High-Drag Rule Package… A Drag

 

Including winner Kyle Busch, who knocked the package in the XFINITY race Saturday, it was hard to find a driver happy with the new high-downforce rules NASCAR introduced. The tall spoiler, 43-inch splitter extension and other adjustments designed for use at Indy to make cars “slingshot” past each other instead made the aerodynamics behind a car worse than ever.

 

“When you got back in traffic, whether you were behind a guy or behind a group of cars, you were horrible,” Busch said. “It was just absolutely so hard to handle in traffic.  It's not sometimes such a bad thing, but you don't want to feel like you're going off into the corner and you're going to crash every time.”

 

His teammate was less politically correct.

 

“It’s terrible, that’s what I think,” said Matt Kenseth. “You just can’t pass. Yeah, you can run up on the straightaway a little bit, but you can’t run through the corner with anything.”

 

Technically, Indy had one more lead change than last season and the racing on restarts was markedly better. But this expert agrees with the drivers; within a few laps, single-file racing was produced and it became near impossible for cars to move up. Another problem with Indy is after the great Goodyear debacle of ’08, where tires kept blowing every 10-12 laps; the tire introduced there will always be on the conservative side. The less a tire wears out through a run, the less speed differential you have and it becomes more difficult for cars to pass each other.

 

You have to give NASCAR credit for trying a new experiment; on the plus side, it’s not like the racing was any worse at Indy. But faced with these rules or the ones introduced at Kentucky this month, it’s the low-downforce package that wins, hands down. They’ll try this configuration one more time, at Michigan in August but I don’t expect NASCAR to use it after that.

 

SECOND GEAR: Cause for Concern for Jeff Gordon?

 

Gordon’s final Brickyard 400? More like running into a ton of bricks. A midrace crash crushed any momentum for the No. 24 team when Gordon turned into the wall to avoid a spinning Clint Bowyer. A 42nd-place finish left Gordon 11th in the standings, winless and buzz building he could possibly miss the Chase.

 

Could that really happen? Right now, Gordon is 67 points ahead of the first driver outside the Chase, Aric Almirola. However, Busch’s push toward the top 30 means at least one driver above Almirola will eventually get knocked out. That would leave Gordon 37 points ahead of Clint Bowyer, within the margin of error where one bad race could leave the No. 24 on the outside looking in.

 

On paper, Gordon’s track record makes this possibility small. He had a top-5 car at Bristol, owns Darlington and could even win Watkins Glen in two weeks. But this season has been uncharacteristic for a No. 24 team who just seems off. Stay tuned….

 

THIRD GEAR: Healthy Chase Alternatives

 

For most of the year, NASCAR’s Chase seemed set for a Hendrick Motorsports / Stewart-Haas Racing final four. Kevin Harvick has been dominant at the top of the Sprint Cup standings while Jimmie Johnson is tied with Busch, earning four victories to date this season. Kurt Busch has been consistent despite missing the first three races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits pretty at third in points.

 

Suddenly, though the long list of recent rule changes has mixed up the front of the field. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have spent the past month at the top of the food chain, Busch matched by the consistency of Kenseth and the pole-winning speed of Carl Edwards. Hendrick appears to have fallen back as Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have begun to flex some muscle again for Team Penske. Suddenly, a Chase that appeared headed Harvick/Chevy’s way appears more wide open than ever. The big loser: Martin Truex Jr. whose small team is struggling to keep up with all the additional expenses. Eight to 10 men now look to be in position to win a championship and that’s a much better storyline for the sport.

 

FOURTH GEAR: Ford’s Continued Fall

 

Indianapolis was the latest sign of how difficult this season has been for Ford. While Logano won the Daytona 500, Ford’s other programs outside of Team Penske continue to struggle. Eight of the 13 Ford entries at Indianapolis wound up 29th or worse. Roush Fenway Racing saw two of their drivers (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle) wreck. Almirola, on the Chase bubble, spun out as well and still has yet to lead a single lap all season.

 

Much talk surrounds Toyota improving its roster for 2016 but you hear nothing from Ford despite several months of struggle. Logano and Keselowski may certainly be title contenders but as a whole Ford looks to be the “weakest link” of the three manufacturers right now, struggling to keep up with rule package changes and most of its future talent (Chris Buescher, Darrell Wallace Jr.) struggling to even earn sponsorship in the XFINITY Series.

 

OVERDRIVE

 

Tony Stewart, despite a 28th-place finish at Indy appeared to show signs of life. He had a top-10 car for most of the event and was dogged by pit strategy, not handling at the finish. Does that mean he can pull off a surprise at Watkins Glen? …. Alex Bowman was one of only two cars to fail to finish at Indianapolis. His Tommy Baldwin Racing team has yet to earn a top-15 finish all season…. Pocono has just 43 entries, the bare minimum for a full field and the two-car Premium Motorsports team is struggling to survive week-to-week. Could short fields be in NASCAR’s future down the stretch of the 2015 season?

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Overcoming History: What Kyle Busch is Doing is Unprecedented In NASCAR
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/3-questions-seattle-seahawks-entering-training-camp
Body:

There is a probably not a more eager NFL team ready to get back to the practice field for training camp than the Seattle Seahawks. After the infamous failure to give Marshawn Lynch the ball on the one-yard line, costing the Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX, it is finally time for them to get the bitter taste out of their mouth.

 

Related: Seattle Seahawks 2015 Team Preview and Prediction

 

Altogether 32 teams start the 2015 season with one goal and that is to go to the Super Bowl., In Seattle, that is not just the end, but it is the expectation. But, even a team that has been two consecutive Super Bowls like the Seahawks enters training camp with questions that need to be answered. Here is a look at three storylines as the two-time defending NFC champions get ready to open training camp on Thursday in Renton, Wash.

 

What will the revamped offensive line look like?

With the trade of Max Unger to New Orleans as part of the deal that brought Jimmy Graham to Seattle and losing James Carpenter in free agency, expect the competition for jobs on the offensive line to be fierce. The top candidate to win the job at center figures to be Patrick Lewis, who saw extensive playing last season while Unger was injured and was at center when the Seahawks exploded for 596 yards in their Week 16 win at Arizona. Lemuel Jean-Pierre also is someone that you can’t count out, as he always seems to find a way to stick around and get on the field. At Guard, Alvin Bailey and J.R. Sweezy should be the front-runners to lock down the left and right guard spots, respectively. Still, it would be a huge plus if rookie Mark Glowinski can come in and provide competition and invaluable depth. Russell Okung and Justin Britt are pretty much locked in at the two tackle positions. The key for Okung is to stay healthy, while Britt needs to be more consistent in his second season as the starting right tackle.

 

Can the Legion of Boom stay healthy?

With the recent news that All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is considered questionable at the best for the Sept. 13 season opener in St. Louis, the question has to be asked if the toll of 38 games over the past two season is starting to finally take its toll on the NFL’s best secondary. Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have never been guys afraid of contract, no matter the situation. But with Thomas’ status already in doubt and the fact that neither Chancellor nor Sherman were at 100 percent during the Super Bowl, it is critical that the Seahawks get immediate contributions from free agent signee Cary Williams, as well as help from the rest of the supporting cast. Don’t forget that Williams, the former Eagle, is the one tasked with replacing Byron Maxwell, who left via free agency and landed in Philadelphia. Some of the burden also falls to the offense, which can help the Legion of Boom by jumping out to big leads and putting more points on the scoreboard. The less punishment the L.O.B. has to dole out this season, the better chance the Seahawks have of being at full strength come playoff time, something that was not the case last season.

 

Can Tyler Lockett revive the Seahawks’ struggling return game?

The punt return game was one of the worst in the NFL last season, as Seattle clearly missed Golden Tate. The season started promising with Percy Harvin and Thomas lined up as Tate’s replacement. But that was before the implosion that led to Harvin getting traded and common sense kicking in to stop using Thomas, an All-Pro safety, on punt returns. The Seahawks were then relegated to using guys like Bryan Walters, pretty much eliminating the possibility of a big return. So Seattle had 28 fair catches on punt returns, second only to, ironically enough, Tate’s new team, Detroit, which led the league with 37.

 

Lockett, was an outstanding return man at Kansas State, returning four kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns during his career. It’s still early, but Lockett has shown signs that he is ready to walk right in and take over duties in Week 1, a homecoming of sorts for him in St. Louis. If Lockett can step in right away and make an impact on special teams, this will be a huge plus for Seattle. Besides giving the team a much-needed spark, it also will allow fellow wide receives Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson to not have to do double duty this season.

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.

Teaser:
3 Questions for the Seattle Seahawks Entering Training Camp
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/damian-lillard-schools-andrew-wiggins-foot-locker-adidas-jimmy-kimmel
Body:

Style is important and nobody knows that better than Bobby Butter. Oh, you don't know the Bobby Butter story?

 

Damian Lillard schools Andrew Wiggins on the art of swag in their new Foot Locker commercial. Jimmy Kimmel stars as Butter and shows an important lesson in how style, or lack thereof, can lead you down an unwanted path.

 

Sadly, we all know a Bobby Butter that just didn't make it.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 12:56
Path: /nfl/examining-overunder-2015-win-totals-nfc-south
Body:

The NFC South was absolutely awful last year with every team posting a record below .500. Almost every team in the division shuttled players in and out to prevent that from happening again in 2015. The biggest question is who is going to take the crown and by how much.

 

Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
 

Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook

 

NFC South

 

Atlanta Falcons

(Over 8.5 wins -105, Under 8.5 wins -115)

 

Record Last Year: 6-10

 

Offense: The big three is the same with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White returning for another season. It'll be interesting to see new coordinator Kyle Shanahan's spin on the group, as he was able to fix the running game in Cleveland last year as well as Washington before that. Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are all in the mix in the backfield. The offensive line needs to improve to help keep Ryan upright. Harry Douglas, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers all found new homes.

 

Defense: The addition of Dan Quinn as head coach should help this side of the ball, which has been awful. He brought in Phillip Adams and O'Brien Schofield from Seattle as well as Brooks Reed and Justin Durant at linebacker. The team also addressed defensive holes with the draft picks of Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins. It's going to be a struggle for this side of the ball.

 

Schedule: A tour of the NFC East begins the season for Atlanta with a home game against the Eagles followed by back-to-back road trips to play the Giants and Cowboys. The Falcons also play three straight on the road Weeks 14-16 at Tampa, Carolina and Jacksonville. That stretch doesn't sound daunting but the road has been unkind at times to the Falcons.

 

Prediction: No real strong feel for the Falcons. A lot of questions and a lot of shootouts are in Atlanta's future. In this division though, you could probably say the same thing for every team.

 

Carolina Panthers

(Over 8.5 wins +115, Under 8.5 wins -135)

 

Record Last Year: 7-8-1

 

Offense: Cam Newton didn't really get much in the way of offensive help this offseason. One could argue the most impactful addition was either Michael Oher for the offensive line or Devin Funchess for the outside. Oher replaces Byron Bell, who was not very good in 2014. The clogged backfield lost DeAngelo Williams, who went to Pittsburgh. Now it's Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert's show. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen will be the main cogs to the passing game.

 

Defense: Carolina challenges Philly for the best group of linebackers in the NFL with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. This group could get better with the addition of first-round pick Shaq Thompson. Cornerback Charles Tillman comes over from Chicago, but who knows how much he has left in the tank. This is the best defense in the division.

 

Schedule: There are some easy and hard stretches to this schedule. Carolina plays at Seattle then hosts Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay after a Week 5 bye. The Panthers also have four road games out of five from Weeks 12-16.

 

Prediction: The under is the play, but not because of a lack of talent. Carolina's schedule will be its undoing. The Panthers are lucky to be in this division because it's going to give them several victories. They are the most talented team in the NFC South.
 

 

New Orleans Saints

(Over 8.5 wins -125, Under 8.5 wins +105)

 

Record Last Year: 7-9

 

Offense: We'll see what Drew Brees can do this year without security blanket Jimmy Graham, who went to Seattle. Brees also lost Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas, but the Saints did add in C.J. Spiller to help add some explosiveness. Brandin Cooks becomes the No. 1 receiver with Marques Colston and Nick Toon among those trying to help. The Graham trade did bring over Max Unger, who should be a nice addition to a beleaguered offensive line.

 

Defense: Rob Ryan's group was absolutely horrific last year, finishing 31st in total defense. The Saints lost Curtis Lofton and Patrick Robinson in free agency, but replaced them with Anthony Spencer and Brandon Browner. The unexpected release of Junior Galette will hurt since he had 10 sacks last year.

 

Schedule: The Saints alternate road and home games for the first eight weeks of the season. They don't have a single stretch with more than one road game in a row unless you count Weeks 10-12 when they play at Washington and Houston with a bye sandwiched in between.

 

Prediction: No strong lean for this one. The defense will be a project this year once again, but the schedule isn't too tough. New Orleans should compete with Carolina for first place in the division.

 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(Over 6 wins +110, Under 6 wins -130)

 

Record Last Year: 2-14

 

Offense: Jameis Winston actually enters a pretty good situation for a rookie quarterback. He's got a basketball team for weapons with Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The running back position is being held down by Doug Martin and Charles Sims. The problem with this unit is the offensive line, although they drafted help in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet

 

Defense: This side of the ball needs some work too. Tampa can build around Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy as well as Alterraun Verner. Last year the Bucs tried to fix the defense by spending on almost every impact free agent. It didn't work so this year they let some of those players go while bringing in a few new pieces. The new faces include Chris Conte, Bruce Carter, Henry Melton and George Johnson. They are replacing disappointing Dashon Goldson and Mason Foster among others.

 

Schedule: Week 1 should be Winston vs. Marcus Mariota as the Bucs host the Titans. Tampa Bay has some winnable games before a Week 6 bye. The toughest stretch could be from Weeks 9-12 when the Bucs host the Giants and Cowboys followed by road games at the Eagles and Colts.

 

Prediction: I came up with six wins almost every time that I ran through the schedule. The defense should be able to keep this team in games with an offense that needs time to click with Winston under center. Once again another flawed team with some talent in this division.

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

Teaser:
Examining the Over/Under 2015 Win Totals for the NFC South
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/why-usc-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015
Body:

USC last entered the national championship race in 2008, which also was the last season the Trojans won the conference title. To call seven years a drought might be somewhat disingenuous — just ask Cal or Oregon State, neither of which have been to a Rose Bowl in more than a half-century — but expectations are such that this time has given those around the USC football something of a seven-year itch.

 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said after USC’s 45-42 Holiday Bowl defeat of Nebraska last December, “We’re going to compete for championships. That’s why you come to USC.”

 

Expectations are indeed high heading into 2015, due in no small part to the return of record-setting quarterback Cody Kessler. His 39 touchdown passes matched the program’s single-season high, and the fifth-year senior from Bakersfield, California, threw just five interceptions.

 

Related: USC Trojans 2015 Preview and Prediction

 

Versatile playmakers Adoree’ Jackson, who played equally effectively in all three phases as a freshman, and Su’a Cravens, a standout at both linebacker and nickel back, give the Trojan defense star power.

 

Three Reasons USC Will Reach the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

1. Talent

It’s pretty simple: USC’s wins on the recruiting trail should give the Trojans an edge in certain key matchups. Each of the first two recruiting classes Sarkisian and Co. signed ranked No. 1 in the conference, and the 2015 class was Rivals.com’s best in the nation.

 

And, it’s not as if the new regime had to restock the cupboard. The previous staff included Ed Orgeron, one of the most celebrated recruiters in college football, and Tee Martin, still at USC and a key figure in the Trojan recruiting effort.

 

Across the starting 11 both offensively and defensively, USC is stocked with many of the top playmakers in the Pac-12 at a given position.

 

2. Offensive Line

Kessler’s record-setting season was thanks in large part to an offensive line that exceeded its collective experience level. USC started two true freshmen on the front five in Week 1, something that had previously not happened in USC history dating back to World War II.

 

Those two freshmen — Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn — grew into hardened veterans as the season progressed. Along with a veteran in the more traditional sense of the word, preseason All-American center Max Tuerk, USC enters 2015 with arguably the best interior line in college football.

 

Tackle was a bit of a concern midway through last season, with Aundrey Walker playing sparingly after a slow recovery from injury, and starting left tackle Chad Wheeler lost to a torn ACL at Utah. However, Zach Banner stepped up nicely at right tackle, and Wheeler is working his way back.

 

Khaliel Rodgers and Viane Talamaivao saw significant playing time last season and provide depth in 2015, while 5-star recruit Chuma Edoga could push for playing time. All told, this is one of the best units in the nation.  

 

3. End-of-Game Experience

USC was on the losing end of heartbreakers against Arizona State and Utah, both of which were decided on the final drive. Together, the defeats effectively kept the Trojans out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

Only Arizona — which, coincidentally, USC beat thanks to a missed field goal in the final seconds — had more nail-biters last year.

 

The sting of those narrow defeats paid dividends in the bowl, as USC held off a Nebraska rally.

 

Last season’s Pac-12 South race proved the importance of closing in single-score games. Division champion Arizona won four of them. USC’s experience with close calls has already proven beneficial, and should carry over into the new campaign.

 

USC's 2015 Schedule

DateOpponent Athlon Projected Rank for 2015Projected Record
Sept. 5Arkansas State768-4
Sept. 12Idaho1252-10
Sept. 19Stanford245-4
Sept. 26at Arizona State139-3
Oct. 8Washington466-6
Oct. 17at Notre Dame129-3
Oct. 24Utah317-5
Oct. 31at California476-6
Nov. 7Arizona308-4
Nov. 13at Colorado675-8
Nov. 21at Oregon810-3
Nov. 28UCLA239-3

 

Three Reasons USC Will Not Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

1. Depth and Youth

While technically these are two elements of USC’s identity that could prevent the Trojans from reaching the Playoff, they combine to form one, key problem.

 

USC is still roughly a dozen players shy of the 85 on scholarship most teams carries. Injuries can pile up over the course of a season and render even full-sized rosters thin. USC experienced that last season, when it took fewer than 50 scholarship players on Pac-12 road trips.

 

The Trojan depth chart isn’t nearly as shallow this year, but Sarkisian will have to rely heavily on true freshmen and unproven reserves to fill out certain positions.

 

2. Run Game Sputters

The loss of Tre Madden to a season-ending injury just before Week 1 and Ty Isaac’s transfer to Michigan left Javorius "Buck" Allen and Justin Davis as USC’s only scholarship running backs last season. The lack of depth didn’t have too much of a noticeable impact, as Allen grinded 276 carries for 1,489 yards.

 

The Trojans have more scholarship backs on roster heading into 2015, but face more questions than a year ago. Can anyone shoulder the load quite as reliably as Allen?

 

Madden did so through the first half of the 2013 season, but he’s been on the shelf since. He’ll have considerable rust to shake off upon his return.

 

Davis showed explosiveness in his 2013 freshman campaign before sustaining a midseason injury, but his performance as the No. 2 ball carrier last season was decidedly up-and-down. Freshman Ronald Jones could find a prominent role in the rotation, but much like the entire running back situation, it’s uncertain.

 

3. No Replacement for Leonard Williams

The first-round NFL pick and All-American defensive lineman was both USC’s best pass rusher and arguably its top run-stopper, as Williams set the table for entire USC defense last season.

 

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will have to use multiple players to replicate Williams’ production, in part because Williams could effectively play both on the edge and interior. Should someone step up in one of those roles, the Trojans should be fine. But if would-be replacements for the All-American fall short, USC will lose its advantage on the line.

 

Final Verdict

 

“Our future is ridiculously bright,” Sarkisian said after the Holiday Bowl.

 

He’s not wrong. The recruiting of Sarkisian and his staff are positioning USC for a run back to the top of the Pac-12 and the national college football landscape.

 

That run could come in 2015, but it may be early for the Trojans. The Pac-12 South is no easier than it was a season ago. Any one of five teams — Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah, as well as USC — could emerge as champion.

 

However, the Trojans have the misfortune of drawing each of the North’s two best teams in cross-divisional competition, including Oregon in late November. The defending conference champion Ducks are one of at least three opponents with considerable Playoff buzz heading into the fall, along with Trojan rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

 

USC is a leading contender for the Pac-12 South’s spot in the conference championship game, but a Playoff appearance may be a year or two away.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Why USC Will or Won't Reach the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 12:00

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